On the world stage, Vladimir Putin is a bully—and President Obama not only seems clueless about the Russian leader’s inner drive, he embraces his ambivalence. “I’m less interested in motivation,” Obama said Monday in The Hague, “and more interested in the facts and the principles that not only the United States but the entire international community are looking to uphold.”
Taken at face value, it’s a disturbing response from a world leader who should lie awake at night concerned about the motivation of U.S. adversaries, whose first meeting of every day involves an intelligence briefing on the motivations of global actors.
It could be that Obama is playing mind games with Putin, looking into the soul that transfixed President Bush 13 years ago and seeing a man whose greatest weakness is parochial hubris. Want to hurt Putin? Say you don’t care about him. In a verbal equivalent of a groin punch, Obama might dismiss Russia as a “regional power” that antagonizes its neighbors “out of weakness.”
But it’s hard to credit Obama with such savvy calculation. I take him at his word: He doesn’t care.